BY: VAIBHAVI MENON
“Nature made a mistake, which I have corrected.” With the changing times, The Lgbtq community has become an important aspect in our day to day life yet many people are opposed to the idea since they refuse to accept them. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that marriage is a right guaranteed to same-sex couples, many believed the largest battle for LGBTQ rights had been won. And while the gains in recognition and legal protections were no doubt significant, same-sex marriage recognition alone couldn’t have possibly resolved a number of longstanding LGBTQ issues – particularly LGBTQ workplace issues. More than 53 percent of LGBTQ workers hide their identity at the workplace, often citing a persistent feeling of being unwelcome. This identity struggle has detrimental impacts on their health, happiness, and productivity, in addition to businesses’ talent retention and leadership development.
Many LGBTQ workplace issues stem from the fact that currently, there’s no federal law that explicitly protects employees from discrimination due to their sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression. Such protections have necessarily come from state laws and federal court cases interpreting the law to protect LGBTQ workers. This patchwork of court rulings and state legislation leaves many vulnerable. LGBTQ employment discrimination laws vary between states. Only 23 states (in addition to the district of Columbia) bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both the public and private workforce. All told, nearly half of the U.S. LGBTQ population lives in a state that doesn’t prohibit employment discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity. While this LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace has an undoubtedly negative impact on the social and economic circumstances of LGBTQ people, it’s the subtle social dynamics within workplaces that wreak havoc on their security and sense of belonging. The combination of the stress of hiding their identities, loss of advancement opportunities, and often pervasive negative sentiments about their identities help create a pervasive sense of isolation among LGBTQ workers.
The negative impact of non-inclusive workplace cultures ultimately proves a detriment to employers. Overall, employee engagement amongst LGBTQ workers is 30 percent lower than their cisgender counterparts, according to Human Rights Watch, while one in five LGBTQ employees report they were already considering leaving their job. If there’s a silver lining for HR and compliance professionals looking to create a more inclusive environment that prevents sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, it’s the increased workplace loyalty, productivity, and happiness of LGBTQ workers in inclusive environments, according to Human Rights Watch. One in four LGBTQ employees surveyed reported that they’ve stayed in a job specifically because of its inclusive environment. In addressing LGBTQ workplace issues, anti-discrimination policies and employee resource groups (ERGs) are often the first efforts companies take to better establish a more inclusive environment. Human Rights Watch warns, though, that such efforts don’t always send their intended message. About half of polled LGBTQ workers say that enforcement of non-discrimination policies depends upon their supervisor’s overall feelings about LGBTQ individuals, and while 67 percent said they felt “very welcomed” by their ERG, 31 percent reported feeling only “somewhat welcomed.”